March 01, 2023

Duckworth Secures Commitment from FAA Administrator Nominee Phil Washington to Uphold 1,500-Hour Rule for Commercial Pilots

Senator also criticized Boeing leadership for neglecting critical information during 737 MAX certification process


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] — U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (CST) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation—the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)—questioned Phil Washington during his hearing to be Administrator of the FAA. During her remarks, Duckworth secured commitment from Washington that, if confirmed, he would uphold the 1,500-hour rule and reject proposals that would weaken it. Additionally, Duckworth pushed him to ensure that, in the aftermath of deadly 737 MAX crashes, the FAA uses its full civil enforcement authority to hold bad actors accountable. Video of Senator Duckworth’s remarks during the hearing can be found here

“My strong belief in the 1,500 hour rule – a belief that is not based on evidence-less emotion and instead grounded in my expertise as a pilot – which taught me how critical flying experience is for safety,” said Duckworth. “There’s a saying about aviation regulations: they’re written in blood. When deadly accidents happen, we investigate and adjust our regulations to ensure whatever went wrong never happens again. As Chair of the Aviation Safety Subcommittee and an aviator, it’s my responsibility to stand up for a basic safety principle: hours spent in the cockpit are hours. Experience and expertise cannot be faked. These life-saving attributes are earned through hours of hard work and dedication to the craft of piloting a real aircraft with real stakes.”

When discussing the FAA’s civil enforcement authority, Duckworth pointed to an internal Boeing document that came to light during a Congressional investigation. The document appeared to outline a plan inside of Boeing to downplay the significance of Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) on the 737 MAX, a system connected to two deadly crashes which killed 346 people. According to the document, a copy of which can be found here, “If we emphasize MCAS is a new function there may be greater certification and training impact.”  To date the FAA has not undertaken any civil enforcement action relating to this document. The U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General is currently reviewing FAA’s oversight of Boeing on this issue.

As the Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation, Duckworth is focused on strengthening safety, bolstering the aviation workforce, holding FAA accountable for finally modernizing air traffic control technology and restoring trust and confidence in the civil aviation system. Last month Duckworth participated in her first CST hearing as the Subcommittee Chair, calling out Southwest Airlines for the company’s lack of transparency, the unacceptable wait times that customers were forced to experience and its refusal to heed warnings that could have helped prevent this meltdown before it ever happened.

At the end of last year, Duckworth introduced the Emergency Vacating of Aircraft Cabin (EVAC) Act to ensure the FAA does more to prioritize passenger safety by appropriately considering real life conditions like the presence of carry-on baggage, people with disabilities, seniors and children, as well as seat size and configuration, in its emergency evacuation standards. She also led the introduction of the bipartisan Aviation Workforce Development Enhancement Act to help meet future needs in our aviation workforce in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. To help break down the significant barriers that Americans with disabilities continue to face when accessing website and software applications, Duckworth introduced the Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act to build on the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by requiring that entities currently covered by the ADA, as well as commercial providers, maintain websites and software applications that are accessible for Americans with disabilities.